Read by Paul Clarke
It was the cloche hat that caught his eye. Adjusting his large yellow bow tie with mauve spots, Gerald turned to call out to the cloche hat. ‘Care for a spin?’ he said. ‘The name’s Gerald and I’m afraid I’m an absolute swine, but I can guarantee giving a girl like you a jolly good time that she’ll live to regret. Don’t bother telling me your name. I won’t remember it, and, anyway, the less I know about you the better. It’s your rather delicious body I’m after.’
It could not have been more romantic an offer, Gerald thought as the tart of his dreams slipped into his car through the door he had so courteously and irresistibly opened. He noted how easily she had allowed a glimpse of silk stocking top to show, if only for second, without the least embarrassment. ‘Rather forward,’ he thought, ‘Just my sort of little vixen.’
‘Were you always such a cad, Gerald? I may call you Gerald, mayn’t I, darling?’ Lucinda asked.
‘Alas, no, I wasn’t always a cad,’ Gerald said. ‘I had to take lessons to get it exactly right. A chap called Major Bullhorn runs an academy in Cricklewood. Needless to say, he’s not a real Major. That’s his speciality – bogus army officers as well as bogus clergy. I wasn’t right for either so I chose absolute swine as my vocation. That’s how I think of it, you see. I mean if you’re no good at anything you can be good for nothing. Well, that’s all you can do. I chose the name Gerald. My real name is … Well, I’m Gerald now, and, by golly, I’m a total bloody swine. You see, bad language in mixed company. That’s just for starters.’
The car turned a corner and was soon out of town. Gerald, who sold fake antiques and owed all the town’s tradesmen money he could never repay, speeded up as the small country town turned into a vast expanse of open country. ‘Being an absolute swine,’ he explained, ‘I’ve taken quite a few innocent young things here. I’ve been soundly horsewhipped by a good many irate fathers, I can tell you. But I have to retain a devil-may-care attitude or I’ll lose my status.’
‘I’m the same,’ Lucinda said. ‘I mean, suppose I were to offer myself for free. Well, what sort of a vicious minx would I be then?’ She flashed Gerald one of her coy looks as she adjusted the brocaded hem of her simple but elegant temptress’s afternoon dress.
‘Bet you’ve ruined a few men?’
‘Oh lots. I’m known to every divorce court in the Home Counties. A loose woman. Fast and loose. But,’ she added in a whisper, ‘I can go very slowly if you prefer.’
To his surprise and shame, Gerald felt his collar tighten against his neck. He felt hot. Until that moment he always had the better of the women. That was something an absolute swine could pride himself on. It wasn’t even the pleasure. It was more the sport of the thing, the game that he always won. But suddenly ...
‘So tell me,’ Gerald asked, hoping to regain mastery of the situation, “how did a well-brought-up girl like you become such a tart?’ Yes, be brutally frank. That was going to knock her down.
‘I answered an advertisement,‘ Lucinda replied unabashed. ‘I thought I was going to work in a French patisserie. I soon learned the truth, but by then it was too late, for I had fallen, you see, quite hopelessly. All innocence lost in moments of madness that paid the rent.’
‘I expect you simply haven’t met the right sort of chap,’ Gerald replied, barely knowing what he was saying before the words were out. What was happening to him? He was losing his touch.
‘I’ve met all sorts,’ Lucinda replied. ‘They’re all the same except you. You’re different. I don’t mean that sort of difference. I mean, well, not such a bad sort beneath it all.’
‘Well, I have to confess that I think I may be in love.’
‘It happens to the worst of us, darling. It’s even happening to me.’ Lucinda’s eyes were downcast. She was blushing a little.
‘Call me Edwin,’ he said, discarding the cad’s bow-tie at last and removing the fake moustache. ‘Do you mind awfully if I wear my spectacles?’ he asked. ‘I can see much better.’
The car slowed down as they approached a village whose parish church had a spire like a welcoming finger pointing heavenward. ‘I say,’ Lucinda said, ‘do you think we could have a look round that church and recover our lost innocence before it’s too late?’
Edwin at once stopped the car. ‘I need to return this to its owner. He lives close by. Perhaps we could have tea and catch the bus home.’
‘What a perfectly splendid idea,’ Lucinda readily agreed. ‘But not before I’ve enquired about the vacancy at the pastry shop.’
‘And,’ Edwin added, ‘not before we speak to the Rector of that rather splendid parish church about our future.’
(c) Geoffrey Heptonstall, 2015
Geoffrey Heptonstall's recent projects include contributions to UNESCO City of Literature in Norwich and the Festival of Firsts. He has had stories performed by Kilter Theatre Co in Bath and White Rabbit. Recent theatre includes The Night City, shortlisted for the Jasperian Award, and A Dream of Shangdu, published by Gold Dust. He writes for The London Magazine.
Paul Clarke trained at the Central School and always got cast as a baddie or a monster. Or, for a bit of variety, a bad monster. Now a photographer, technologist and occasional performer, he finds the League's stories islands of relative sanity in his life.